17 September 2007 Business EDUCATION entrepreneurs

Practice Makes Theory

They're not IIMs, but their real lesson is the example they set.
Practice Makes Theory
Rahul Surve
Practice Makes Theory

Clairvoyance is a virtue these education entrepreneurs seem to have in plenty. Some were propelled by inner drive, others by the paucity they saw around them. The liberal environment of the '90s and the subsequent technology revolution did the rest.

G.P.C. Nayar was a PR manager in a state public enterprise in Kochi who put his skills to use in a PR course for students. In 1991, discerning in the first flush of liberalisation the promise of management education, he decided to give concrete shape to his dream institute. Except that bank after bank refused him a loan to construct even the first buildings. Nayar then turned to some of his old students, asking them for a personal loan of Rs 3,000 odd for three years.

That gave him Rs 23.85 lakh, an amount he was asked to treat as a donation. The combined goodwill translated into the School of Communication and Management Studies(SCMS)-Kochi, a leader in professional management education with an asset base of Rs 285 crore at current market price.

G.P.C. Nayar at the SCMA-Kochi campus

"As an entrepreneur, I was a loner," recalls Nayar. "None came to my rescue because I had no credit rating and they could not find any worthwhile reason to lend to an individual who makes a living by some distance education programme. I started the programme in the academic year 1992-93 as planned. In 1994, the aicte granted its approval after several hurdles they had created, hurdles which would dissuade many."

But the years of struggle paid off. SCMS today sits pretty in a new, centrally air-conditioned campus on a built-up area of 1,42,000 sq ft—one of the largest for a B-school in India—built with a term loan of Rs 25 crore from the SBI in 2002. Another Rs 8 crore was put in from the institute's own resources.

Nayar at least had a plan. Prof Sudhir G. Angur had just gone looking for a good B-school in Bangalore to admit a relative. Unable to find one, he decided to fill the void. Thus was born the Alliance Business Academy (ABA) in 1996, which became operational a year later.

Blazing the trail of management education in Western India, however, was one subedar in the army who went by the name of Bala. The fire of ambition saw him complete a full-time PG in management education while serving in the army. Then he started the Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, a management institute for army personnel. Impressed by his efforts, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Today, Prof (Col) A. Balasubramanian needs no introduction. The Indian Institute of Modern Management (IIMM) in Pune run by Sri Balaji Society has the largest campus in Maharashtra. The professor has run into some trouble over the 'Indian' bit in his school's nomenclature, since it is affiliated neither with the central nor the state government. Even rechristened the Bala Institute, it will retain the 'modern' in management.

Some 950 students pass out of IIMM's portals every year, and the strength is only expected to go up. "We're an autonomous management institute offering job-oriented programmes," says Bala. "We increase the strength according to the demand in the market and our limited capabilities."

Exponential growth is a mantra the ICFAI Business School (IBS) in Hyderabad too thrives on. Started in 1995 on a modest 5,000 sq ft built-up area in Nagarjuna Hills in Hyderabad, this brainchild of N.J. Yesaswy now boasts of a 100-acre campus, world-class facilities, and a turnover of Rs 800 crore.

Both Nayar and IBS founding father Dr V. Panduranga Rao acknowledge the web of opportunity the '90s ushered in. "Firstly, there was a deterioration in the general educational standards at the universities due to lack of proactive policy considerations," says Rao. Then, post-1991, arose challenges in the field of management education—the economy was expected to have higher growth rates and the requirement for a large number of professionally qualified managers to sustain those rates. It clearly meant that access to higher education, particularly management and technology education, had to grow manifold. "This motivated us at ICFAI to start IBS."

Adds Nayar, "India at that time had only 72 B-schools, including the IIMs, and around 300 technology institutions," he says. "I thought a country like India should have several hundred more B-schools to cater to the needs of business and industry." That was also the time, he adds, when MNCs were gearing up to set up shop in India, and many were negotiating with potential Indian counterparts to establish a base in India. The time, indeed, was ripe.

Achyuta Samant, chancellor, KIIT, Bhubaneshwar

A chance the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) in Bhubaneshwar latched on to. Started in 1992 as an ITI training centre, it went on to become the youngest institute to be awarded deemed university status in India and is now a university. Today, KIIT produces 240 graduates every year. Chancellor Achyuta Samant talks of the discernible pressure on B-schools to produce quality graduates. "In the 21st century, the paradigm in the corporate sector has shifted from being capital-centred to knowledge-centred," he says. "This calls for a new breed of managers who are agile enough to keep pace with changing times. Unfortunately, curriculum and pedagogy in a majority of management schools are still archaic. They need to update themselves in order to be relevant in the present time." Towards which end, says Samant, "we have established a strong interface with industry." KIIT collaborates with some of the top names in the corporate sector in jointly offering academic programmes. International conferences and workshops too are integral to its programmes. It seems to be bringing in returns—this year KIIT has attracted students belonging to 12 nationalities. "We are also broadening the range of courses we offer," says Samant. "In this connection, three schools—School of Rural Management, KIIT National Law School and School of Languages—have been set up in 2007."

Far from the fanfare of IIMs, institutes like SCMS-Kochi; IIMM, Pune; IBS, Hyderabad; Bangalore's ABA or KIIT, Bhubaneshwar are making their quiet presence felt. For, as Bala predicts, "It is going to become very, very difficult for industry to find suitable managerial manpower in the country. Just 7 per cent of the youth in the 17-23 age group is in the mainstream of higher education in the country. As one among the fastest growing economies of the world, if we fail to produce sufficient manpower, industry in general, and MNCs in particular, will be forced to recruit manpower from other countries."

To pre-empt that, Bala and other B-school leaders are equipping their students to meet the challenges on a global terrain. Ploughing huge investments in creating infrastructure and global syllabi, these institutes are moving away from conventional methods to modern, realistic and need-based training. As Bala says, "Every MBA is now a profit centre: perform or perish are the keywords. Industry has no time to train them. They want performers from day one. We are working on great changes in our entire approach. Our directors are studying these critical issues. We will soon emerge as the best consulting centre for the industry as well as the government."

Future managers at the Alliance, Bangalore

IBS too has innovated on a number of counts on the premise that India will need high-quality managers in large numbers. Says Panduranga Rao, "Of course, technology is one of the many inputs that went into making this institute a successful one. I may mention here that we initially emphasised on investing our limited resources on educational software (faculty, proactive curriculum design, courseware development) rather than on educational hardware (land and buildings). Another important move has been to make the entire pedagogy case study-driven. There were hardly any case studies available in writing in India during the mid-'90s and we had to buy the case studies from Harvard and integrate them into classroom teaching. This need has motivated us to initiate case development activity in a big way. As of now our institute develops more than 300-400 case studies on Indian and foreign corporates every year."

Not to be left behind, SCMS-Kochi too has tuned its academic plan to global needs. According to Nayar, SCMS places a lot of premium on developing an ethical and cultural dimension to the character of its students. "In a globalised environment, says Nayar, "it is not enough that a business institution trains youngsters to be successful professionals in their own country. Today's managers must have global competence as no business activity is confined to any one country or one region. Knowledge of cultures of countries with which he does business is of paramount importance for his success. SCMS-Kochi provides adequate training to its students to make them globally competitive."

As our economy grows, the scope for trained managers gets unlimited, not only in terms of numbers but also with regard to opportunities. Aware of this potential, these institutes are content to feast on the fringe benefits for now. But slowly and surely, they are registering a presence on the radar screen of corporates and wannabe Sunil Mittals and Arun Sarins.

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